Most Likely ‘Mystery Team' Candidates for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

There is no club - not the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs or any other high-roller - that is as aggressive year to year as "Mystery Team."

No matter which star it is available in free agency or trade, Mystery Team always does its due diligence.

And guess what? Last week, when it came out that the Phillies would meet with Bryce Harper Saturday in Vegas and that the Yankees' interest in Manny Machado was more lukewarm than anything, Mystery Team emerged for Machado's services! This couldn't possibly be a move for negotiating power by Machado's representatives, right? No way.

Yet even though the timing was suspicious, Mystery Team can never be counted out. We have seen far too many examples in recent years of a superstar ending up signing or being traded to a team that was not reported to be after him. And it makes some sense because if you have legitimate interest in a star, it's more beneficial in most cases to fly under the radar and make your move at the very end.

Some high-profile recent examples of Mystery Team getting its man:

• Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees in 2017

• Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks in 2015

• Robinson Cano to the Mariners in 2013

• Albert Pujols to the Angels in 2011

• Cliff Lee to the Phillies in 2010

These were all surprising announcements. Stanton was linked most heavily to the Giants and Cardinals. Pujols was linked most to the Marlins and Cardinals. Many expected Cano to re-sign with the Yankees and Greinke to re-sign with the Dodgers.

This offseason, the teams most publicly after Harper have been the Phillies, Nationals, White Sox and Dodgers, with those last two teams perceived to be far behind the Phils and Nats in terms of willingness to spend what it takes.

The teams most publicly after Machado have been the Phillies and White Sox, with the Yankees now a distant third.

If one of the two superstars ends up with a team not on those lists, it won't be a complete shock. 

Mystery teams for Harper

The mystery teams to watch out for with Harper are the Cubs and Giants, two teams that have had very quiet offseasons for different reasons. 

The Cubs have been quiet because of all their humongous expenditures in recent years (Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, etc.) and upcoming deals that will need to be done (Kris Bryant).

The Giants have been quiet because they're already running a high payroll, are not close to being the best team in the NL West, and have a weak farm system.

But Harper has made clear in the past his affinity for both cities, Chicago and San Fran. And quite obviously, he'd be a coup for either team, if they meet his price tag. 

Don't completely count out the Astros, either. They reportedly tried hard to acquire Harper ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. They already have plenty of outfielders (George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp) but Harper is the caliber of player who supersedes need.

Mystery teams for Machado

The Yankees have become such an afterthought over the last two weeks that they've gained Mystery Team status for Machado. Many viewed the signing of second baseman D.J. LeMahieu as the final sign that the Yankees were moving on from the thought of signing Machado. Their infield is crowded with LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres capable of playing second base, Didi Gregorius (when healthy), Torres and Troy Tulowitzki capable of playing shortstop and Miguel Andujar at third base.

But the Yankees have tried all offseason to trade Andujar, who is a below-average defender and may never replicate his offensive success of 2018. So far, no dice. If the Yankees find the right return for Andujar, signing Machado again becomes a real possibility.

The Cardinals, prior to acquiring Paul Goldschmidt, seemed like a contender for Machado. But you don't trade for Goldschmidt to not re-sign him at season's end, and it's unlikely St. Louis commits huge money to both. 

Quite frankly, there just aren't many logical competitors for Machado's services at this point after the Phillies, White Sox and possibly the Yankees.

So many teams just aren't trying to win in 2019 or don't have the money: Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Twins, Mariners, Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays, D-backs, Reds, Marlins, Pirates. That's nearly half the league.

A dark, dark horse for Machado would be the Padres, who are committed to improving and currently have no starting third baseman. 

Just keep these possibilities in the back of your mind because the "mystery team" thing happens with surprising regularity.

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